No time to save time

Not having the time to find a more efficient way to do something is something of a paradox, but it’s also a pretty common problem. Innovation nearly always shows up on the list of core values for a company, but just as often it fails to live up to its promise — people feel they just don’t have time for it. If continuous improvement through innovation is to be a genuine objective, (and we would argue it should be one) this problem needs a solution.

There are many reasons why people don’t innovate to make their lives easier. One is that investigating ideas can mean wandering down a long path that takes up time and mental energy and may only lead to a dead end, leaving us feeling like the time was wasted while ‘real work’ was neglected.

More often, it’s the very things that require an investment in innovation to improve — the tired, outdated processes, the slavish adherence to doing things the hard way — simply because that’s how it’s always been done — that are precisely what prevents innovation. People are simply too stressed, tired, and time-poor, and this makes it hard to think laterally.

I’ve seen several examples of this, and I’d argue it’s one of the most common barriers to innovation. In Australia, I saw an organisation forced into continuous reactive panic mode due to staff cuts. Having this increased pressure to get things done with fewer resources ironically robbed them of the time and capacity to recognise the inefficiencies that had developed, streamline processes, and make improvements — that would have let them get things done with fewer resources. So it can be a vicious cycle.

These barriers to innovation can occur in any company of any size and any aptitude. In India, life in general is often a struggle and I often saw small business owners too busy just getting by to stop and reflect on potential improvements to how they did things. One man making shirts for tourists had been doing things the same way for too long, he seemed to never have experimented with how he made them and consequently his designs weren’t appealing or functional. The stress of bringing in business and getting by had ironically robbed him of the luxury of time which might be used to reflect and improve his approach.

This example is important because it illustrates that it’s not to imply a matter of having skin in the game. Improvements would have directly improved the man’s life, and livelihood. Sadly, he just lacked the time, the resources, and the mindset to experiment.

More and more, innovation as a concept features in the lists of core values of organisations that wouldn’t recognise innovation if it hit them in the face with a shovel, which it often does when more innovative new entrants turn up. The threat of disruption is real, it is present, and it should be taken seriously, the best defence is a good offence.

A culture of innovation must be fostered. When people are given the time and resources to deliberately explore the pathways to new ideas and innovation without the guilt of neglecting the ‘real work’, or fear of reprimand for ‘wasting time’, they come up with better ideas. Not every path will lead to a pot of gold, but some will and they will ultimately make the investment worthwhile.